As I write this, snow is piling up on the ground outside my window. The salt I laid on the driveway is struggling to keep the ice at bay, and I’m preparing a mental checklist for tomorrow, when I go out to check the weatherproofing on the animal enclosures.
Winter has come to the homestead.
When I lived in the city, winter wasn’t all that different from any other time of year. My apartment’s thermostat ensured that I was comfortable indoors, and on the rare occasions that I had to venture out into the snow, it was a short walk to a local restaurant or shop where central heating kept the cold at bay.
In short, winter was an afterthought because I didn’t spend much time outside. But things have changed now that I’m living on the homestead. I have animals that I must care for, and my responsibilities don’t go away based on the weather forecast.
If it rains, I work in the rain. If it snows, I work in the snow.
That said, this is my second winter on the homestead, and one thing I’m noticing is that the work doesn’t change. There are only some minor additions and subtractions to my daily chores.
I may have to devote a day to repairing a fence or making a few unexpected trips to the feed store, but there is a certain consistency embedded in the life of a homesteader. I know that I need to feed and water the animals every day. I know that I need to prepare food for the members of my household. If it’s summer, I tend the garden. If it’s winter, I shovel snow. Simple.
And as long as I hold to the core of my “homesteader practice,” it largely doesn’t matter what the weather does. I’m prepared for minor inconveniences, such as snowstorms, and I have the ability to deal with the occasional catastrophe. In this way, my homesteader practice is similar to my Buddhist practice.
In the First Noble Truth, the Buddha tells us: “Life is suffering.”
There are many ways to understand this teaching, but I often think of it in terms of the weather. This is because the weather on a homestead is never what you want it to be. It’s always too hot or too cold. Or maybe the temperature is good, but there’s too much rain. To be a homesteader, one must learn to live comfortably in bad weather. And the first step to doing that is accepting that bad weather is an inescapable part of life.
Similarly, when Buddha tells us that “life is suffering,” he’s telling us that life is filled with bad weather, both literally and figuratively, in the way of birth, aging, sickness, and death. Suffering is inescapable in the human realm. We can run from this fact, or we can learn to live comfortably in the midst of our suffering. Buddhism helps us do the latter by giving us core practices such as the Noble Eightfold Path, the Six Perfections, and the Four Brahmaviharas, to which we can hold on in daily life.
When we engage in these practices on a daily basis, they provide a core around which both our religious and mundane lives can be built. Like a homesteader going about their chores in order to care for the animals under their protection, we can go about our Buddhist training to protect ourselves and others from harm.
When we practice consistently—every day—we lay the groundwork for mental and spiritual stability when times are easy.
Thus, when circumstances become difficult we already have the spiritual reservoirs to deal with a catastrophe, along with some well-practiced techniques: chanting, meditation, mindfulness of the body, and so on, that will help us cope with any problems that arise.
But this can be challenging because our practice doesn’t change every day, or at all. In fact, Buddhists have been engaging in the same doctrines and practices for 2,600 years. Yes, there are some variations in the finer details, but the core teaching remains the same from one tradition to the next.
Thus, it can be hard for us to stick with our daily practice because it feels stagnant. We want a shiny new toy to play with, but Buddhism offers us the same cushion, the same incense, and the same altar every day.
We must come to understand that the sameness of Buddhist practice is a feature, not a bug. In the same way that the sameness of daily chores provide stability for a homestead, the sameness of Buddhist practice provides stability for our spiritual life.
It provides an unchanging core on which we can rely, no matter what else is happening in the world. And it provides firm ground upon which we can stand when we tackle our suffering head on.
Namu Amida Butsu
Related features from BDG
Dharma’s Garden – Nourishing the Local Community through Homesteading
Suffering and Joy on a Buddhist Homestead
Metta Goes Free Range
Cultivating Wild: The Miracle of Dharma’s Garden!
Ajahn Sucitto, Down to Earth